Eyes on the Sky: Exhibition Highlights Indigenous Astronomy

This past spring, as North Americans looked to the skies for a rare total solar eclipse, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture was looking ahead to the spring 2025 opening of an exciting exhibition exploring Native astronomy through the lens of Indigenous communities.

Makowa: Native Skywatching in the Southwest follows the museum’s acclaimed longtime tradition of creating exhibitions led and informed by Native communities—from object selection and interpretation to narratives that bring an exhibition to life. The planning phase of the exhibition is supported by a $40,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant. Private funding through the Museum of New Mexico Foundation is still needed to support interactive, in-gallery activities and engaging educational programs at the museum and beyond. These will connect visitors of all ages with the timeless traditions of Indigenous astronomy.

Makowa explores the significance of the sky and celestial bodies in the lives of ancestral and contemporary Indigenous cultures of the American Southwest. The interdisciplinary exhibition illuminates the connection between humanity and the cosmos across cultures and time, combining knowledge from anthropology, archaeology, history, art history, philosophy, astronomy, and Native American and Indigenous studies.

Showcased will be the astronomical practices and rituals of the New Mexico Pueblos, the Hopi, Diné (Navajo), Jicarilla Apache Nation, N’de (Mescalero Apache) and Tohono O'odham tribes.

The project draws on the museum’s vast collection of over 10 million archaeological artifacts, and 80,000 historic and contemporary objects—textiles, pottery, basketry, jewelry, paintings and more. To ensure proper representation and respect for these objects, exhibition curators are consulting a variety of Native scholars, community members and the museum's Indian Advisory Panel in their planning.

Maxine McBrinn, the museum's former curator of archaeology who provided the initial exhibition research, points to Indigenous peoples' sophisticated knowledge of astronomy. "Across cultures, people have looked to the sky for guidance, tracking the sun, moon, stars and constellations to identify planting and harvesting times or to predict animal migration patterns,” she says.

Object displays will be complemented by high-resolution, large-scale photographs, some of ancient rock art depicting the heavenly bodies, and others showing how ancient buildings and roads at Casa Grande and Mesa Verde were aligned with the sun and the moon. Dynamic public programs that amplify Native voices will further enrich the visitor experience.

Across cultures, people have
looked to the sky for guidance,
tracking the sun, moon, stars
and constellations.

Plans include a lecture series featuring Native astronomers, archaeologists, archaeoastronomers and other related scholars. A full suite of K-12 educational activities, including hands-on lessons exploring Native perspectives on the cosmos, will be offered for visiting school groups. A host of other opportunities for personal engagement with the night sky—such as telescope gazing, storytelling and star talks—is also in the works.

The museum is hoping to partner with New Mexico Historic Sites and other state museums on these and other programs and activities.

This article and image are from the Museum of New Mexico Foundation’s Member News Magazine.